Allardyce achieves his aim of taking West Ham straight back to the Premier League, but it was a real nail-biter
Sam Allardyce did not have to field the question. He knew that it would have been forthcoming in defeat. "Sam, do you fear the sack?" The West Ham manager has lived on the edge of a knife since last August, when the season began with a home loss to Cardiff. Failure here would have felt fatal. Instead, joy and relief made for a heady cocktail. After a trying campaign in which Allardyce has struggled at times for East End hearts and purist minds, he can at last look forward with optimism.
He said he would get West Ham straight back up, if not automatically then via the Championship play-off final, sport's most lucrative one-off contest. It is meant to be worth £90m, although parachute payments in this case rather scrambled the mathematics. And he has done it. No one was complaining here about the lack of quality on an afternoon when nails were chewed to stubs. For Allardyce the end justified any manner of means.
The margins were so tight that, with 87 minutes on the clock and Blackpool having enjoyed the better of the second half, it was possible to fear for Allardyce; yet, with one sweep of Ricardo Vaz Tê's boot, the manager could consider a return to what he has called "the promised land", a massive bonus landing in his bank account and there being no need to make devastating financial cuts at the club. He could even lend his dulcet northern tones to I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles.
Vaz Tê was an unlikely hero given he had spent the previous 87 minutes merely intensifying Allardyce's touchline agony. Even his finish into the roof of the net diced with disaster. Had he been a couple of yards further out, the ball would have been fielded by the West Ham fans behind the goal. Yet at full-time, Vaz Tê could cavort bare-chested in front of them, dancing his funky dance and Allardyce could talk him up as one of his finest bargain signings.
According to Ian Holloway, the Blackpool manager, it was not a fair fight. Never mind West Ham finishing 11 points above his team and beating them 4-0 and 4-1 during the season, he highlighted the chasm in revenues and individual player earnings at the two clubs. Blackpool ought not to have been on the same playing field. Yet they were and when they departed they could consider themselves unlucky. A disconsolate Holloway caught the mood when he said it had come down to "the spin of a coin".
There was not much for Allardyce to enjoy during the match, apart from his team's goals. The tension was almost unbearable as the action ebbed and flowed. He chewed mouthfuls of gum as Blackpool created the best early chances. Even Carlton Cole's cold-blooded punishment of the ball-watching Ian Evatt did not seem to offer much respite. Allardyce continued to spin on his heels and look to the heavens. When one additional first-half minute was signalled, the West Ham fans whistled for the referee Howard Webb to blow up. It seemed a bit early in the game for that kind of thing.
West Ham did it the hard way in the second half, which is hardly unusual. They surrendered the initiative and Blackpool looked the likelier scorers of the decisive goal. Even when Kevin Nolan hit the crossbar with a sublime volley, the thought flickered that it would not be West Ham's day. Yet fortune would smile on them. Celebratory T-shirts were hastily foisted on the players. "Nothing beats being back," the slogan read. Allardyce would second that.